Create Shopping Cooperation

Create Shopping Cooperation

What do you do when your child wants everything in the store?

Instead of trying to reign in their wants, check your boundaries (physical, social or personal). It’s OK to buy only what you can or want to buy, and validate the rest with wishes. 

An odd thing happens with wishes. When you explore the details of children’s wishes—what they love about it, what they might imagine they could do with it at home, what their room would be like with one on every shelf or a whole closet full that tumble out when they open the door, etc., they really get that you understand. The more you understand, the less they need to argue to make their point. That’s when cooperation has a chance to show up, whether they can have the thing they want or not.

Watching for cooperation is the key.

Watching for cooperation does two things: 1) it keeps you calm because you see the child progressing in the direction you want; 2) it gives you the chance to point it out as a STRENGTH, either in the moment or later, so they can start to see themselves as cooperative. Kids who see themselves as cooperative act very differently from those who see themselves as disrespectful or rebellious. 

Here’s how validating “wants” with wishes and watching for cooperation sounded with my niece at a bookstore when she was about 5 years old. Knowing that she was used to getting something each time she went to the store with her parents, when she said she wanted to come with me, I told her that I was going to buy a present for a friend and would not be buying anything for her. She agreed, but since past experience means more than words (once is always to a child), I knew my boundary would be tested.

So in addition to giving her advance notice, I made sure I had the time for her to work through what was bound to be a difficult transition. Plus I had the luxury of being the aunt, which is easier than being the mom.

At the bookstore after helping me choose a book for my friend, the testing began. She headed straight to the biggest book-and-toy boxed set on the shelf. I responded with the three steps of Language of Listening, SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS), CAN DO boundaries, and STRENGTHs watching for cooperation the whole time. It went something like this:

Child: (taking the boxed set off the shelf) “I really want this book! It’s my favorite. Can I have it?”


SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS): (kneeling down beside her) “You really want that! It’s got the book and the doll, too! You love that story. I bet you can even imagine taking it home and playing with the doll while your mom reads the story. You really wish you could have it! (She nodded.) “


CAN DO: (with a big sigh to match her feelings) “And, darnit! I’m here to buy a present for a friend, and that’s all. Must be something you can do. Hmm. You could put it on your wish list.”


Child: “You could get it for me now! Please, please!”


SWYS: “You think I could get it for you now.”


STRENGTH: “You even asked politely…”


CAN DO: “…and I’m not buying anything but this book today. Rats! Must be something you can do. Hmm.”


She put it back on the shelf and headed for the stuffed animal rack where she picked up a medium-sized dog, not a huge one. There it was! Putting the box back and scaling down—cooperation was starting to show up. She went on:


Child: “You could buy me this! It’s a boxer, and it’s the only one I’ve ever seen!”


SWYS: “You knew what kind of dog that was, and it’s the only stuffed one you’ve ever seen! That makes it really special, so you thought I would buy you that instead. “


CAN DO: “And, darnit again! You really want it, and I’m not buying it. Must be something you can do.”


She put it back down and picked up an even smaller one—more cooperation!


Child: (sadly) “How about this one? Can I have it?”


SWYS: “You found a smaller one thinking that would make a difference.”


STRENGTH: “You’re trying so hard to cooperate by finding something that would work for me, hoping I will change my mind.”


CAN DO: “And still, I’m only buying this book. Must be some other way to get what you want. You could bring your own money next time.”


Child: “I want YOU to buy me something!”


SWYS: “You want ME buy you something. You really wish I would, just like your parents always do…”


CAN DO: “…and that’s not what I do. I’m going to check out now. I wonder, what’s the last thing you need to do so you will be able to leave the store?”


Child: (frustrated) “Buy something! Can I at least have this bookmark? P-l-e-a-s-e!”


At this point it was hard not to laugh. I knew she didn’t want a bookmark, she just wanted me to buy her something, and that was not going to happen. I could tell she needed some way to meet her need for power, so I pointed out what she knew (knowing things is empowering), acknowledged her strategy, and offered several more CAN DOs.


SWYS: “You know I don’t like to spend much money so you found the cheapest thing in the store, thinking that would work. You’ve really thought of everything.”


CAN DO: “And I’m only buying this book. Must be some place you can wait while I check out.”


She stomped over to the door and flopped on the floor. While I checked out, she pouted. When I was done, I joined her.


SWYS: (kneeling down beside her and matching her feelings) “You’re so mad! This didn’t go the way you wanted!”


Child: “I’m not leaving!”


SWYS: “You want to sit right there…”


CAN DO: “…and it’s time to go to the car. Hmm. You can either walk holding my hand or have a piggy back ride. Which will it be?”


Child: (sadly) “Piggy back ride.”


She climbed onto my back, shed a few tears, and got into the car without resistance.


SWYS: (on the drive home) “That was probably the hardest trip to the store for you ever! You always get something at the store, and this time you didn’t. You are really disappointed.”


STRENGTH: “Still, as hard as it was, you put each thing back and got into the car all on your own. That kind of cooperation shows a lot of self-control!”


She calmed herself quickly, which I pointed out later at home. Shopping trips with her have been a pleasure ever since.



  1. LOVED this extended example!
    What shines out is your complete groundedness and clarity in your own boundaries– no guilt, no waffling, no wanting to “build relationship” through changing your boundaries. Really really, no kidding, the kids will not hold our boundaries for us–ONLY WE can do that!

    • Katherine,

      I love your comment and know you speak with the voice of experience: “Really really, no kidding, the kids will not hold our boundaries for us–ONLY WE can do that!” That is so true! It’s crazy how hard that is to learn, but when you get there, it’s worth it. Life with kids becomes so much easier and so much more rewarding.

      Thank you for sharing that! – Sandy

  2. Julia Kurskaya |

    Just shared this on FB along with some thoughts about wishes that came after listening to your December call yesterday! This really long conversation is so complete. Makes your point perfectly clear. Thank you, Sandy!

    • Julia,

      Thank you for sharing this! I looked at your FB post, and could feel your excitement about keeping children in touch with what they want via wishes. Your enthusiasm and this perspective on wants & wishes are wonderful gifts to share with your readers.

      I’m glad my long example helped. As you can see, it’s the same three steps over and over, watching for cooperation the whole time, and never giving up on the child or your boundary. Validating my niece’s wants and wishes made her cooperation possible. – Sandy

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